Israel recalled its ambassador to Switzerland for consultations in protest at a meeting between Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad is in Switzerland to attend the United Nations Conference on Racism in Geneva. Israel has objected to the participation of Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly questioned the historical veracity of the Holocaust, and announced today in a Foreign Ministry statement that it is recalling Ambassador to Bern Ilan Elgar after the Iranian leader was greeted yesterday by the Swiss president.
Merz’s meeting with Ahmadinejad, a “known Holocaust- denier,” the ministry said, is “not in keeping with the values that Switzerland represents, and what are supposed to be those of the UN conference against racism.”
The meeting “was requested by the Iranian president,” said Monica Schmutz, Swiss deputy ambassador to Israel, “and President Merz used the occasion to tell Ahmadinejad that Holocaust denial is not acceptable, that he should recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to raise the issue of human rights in Iran.”
Nations including the U.S., Germany, Canada and Australia have said they won’t attend the week-long Geneva forum over concerns it will unfairly single out Israel for criticism. President Barack Obama said at a news conference yesterday in Trinidad that the U.S. would boycott the conference due to concerns that the meeting’s declaration would “pre-judge” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Delegates from other countries left the conference hall in Geneva today when Ahmadinejad began to deliver an address, in which he criticized Israel, saying that “the word Zionism personifies racism.”
Switzerland will be represented at the conference, but not by anyone at the ministerial level, Schmutz said in a phone interview.
Several states have let one or two issues dominate their approach to the Geneva meeting, “allowing them to outweigh the concerns of numerous groups of people that suffer racism and similar forms of intolerance,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking in a cabinet meeting today on the eve of the country’s annual memorial for the 6 million Jews murdered during World War II, said that “to our sorrow not everyone has learned the lessons,” of the Holocaust. He criticized the Geneva conference for giving a platform to Ahmadinejad, “a racist Holocaust- denier who doesn’t conceal his intention to see Israel wiped off the face of the earth.”
A survey sponsored by the European Jewish Congress and Tel Aviv University found that expressions of anti-Semitism rose in major Western countries during 2008 and early 2009, particularly in Switzerland, Germany and Canada. The Geneva conference “is taking place at against the backdrop of a global rise in anti- Semitism fueled by the economic crisis,” said European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor in an e-mailed statement to reporters.
“Just yesterday, Ahmadinejad charged that, ‘Zionists seek to take control of the world’s political and media centers in order to loot and belittle nations. Such statements bring to the surface old anti-Semitic notions of Jewish control of the world economy,” Kantor said.